What’s the Point of Earth Day?

earth dayAccording to Wikipedia, Earth Day got its start on April 22, 1970 when United States Senator Gaylord Nelson organized an environmental teach-in. Some 20 million Americans from colleges, universities, and primary and secondary schools got involved. It didn’t really go global until 1990, though, when Earth Day 20 was celebrated in 141 countries. I was in grade eight in 1990, and I remember it felt like a very big deal. That was when I became aware that April 22 was Earth Day – a day set aside to do something special for the planet.

Today, Earth Day has become Earth Month, as all April long the public discourse takes on a green hue. You can’t turn on the TV, it seems, without someone talking about the environment. This theme touches even the youngest among us, as the Earth Day Canada website points out, “Nearly every school child in Canada takes part in an Earth Day activity.” My own daughter is certainly no exception. I have to wonder, though – does all this green talk actually make any difference?

On the one hand, I certainly believe that the more attention we pay to the state of the planet, the better. I can’t think that it’s bad or wrong to raise awareness around environmental issues, encourage school children not to litter, or make a commitment to live more sustainably. These are all good things. I firmly believe that even small steps can make a big difference, when you add them all up. If Earth Day is the catalyst that inspires positive change, that’s fabulous.

On the other hand, part of me wonders if Earth Day is really just so much greenwashing. Consider, for example, this press release from Coca-Cola about how the company is partnering with River Network to donate over 1000 of its syrup drums for reuse as rain barrels in communities across the United States. The headline says that, in honour of Earth Month, the company is raising awareness around water stewardship. This is all well and good, but let’s not forget that Coca-Cola bottling plants have been charged with depleting groundwater resources in drought-stricken areas in the developing world. Let’s also not forget that all those plastic bottles that their beverages come in have a significant environmental impact on our rives, lakes and oceans.

It’s great if a company takes on environmental projects in honour of Earth Day. However, I don’t think that a good deed today can compensate for all the harm caused every day of the year. I resent it when a company uses a day like Earth Day as a marketing ploy. And let’s be clear – Coca-Cola is not alone in this. They’re just one example.

I suppose my point is this: one day is not enough. If we really want to protect (and improve) the health of the planet, we need to take steps every day. We need to think about how our actions impact the world at large all the time, and how we can do better. This doesn’t mean we need to sell all our worldly possessions and live in the woods. It also doesn’t mean that we need to take the weight of the whole world on our shoulders. We all got into this mess together, and we need to work together to get out of it. But that’s just what we have to do – work together to get out of it, contributing what we can, each and every day.

I’m seriously considering doing some kind of family project today with my kids in honour of Earth Day. But I also know that what really drives the message home is what they see me doing all the time. I don’t have to tell them to recycle or carry reusable bags, because these things have just always been a part of their lives. It’s those little things that might not seem big or sexy or exciting that show our commitment to the planet. So I’ll seize this opportunity to open the conversation, but I won’t let it end once Earth Day is over.

What do you think? Do you celebrate Earth Day? Or do you think it’s just so much hype? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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  1. As long as one person stops and considers environment and his/her own impact, then I’m fine with all the empty hype. Lets remember that recycling started as hipi hype that couple of awkward people are doing and it grew into now mandated obligation that some 50% of population think it is waste of time and money but still doing it. Hype is worth it, as we have to inch over all the day-to-day advertising of buying bigger and using more.

  2. Earth Day certainly seems like a greenwashing opportunity for the corporate world, and it can really make one feel disillusioned. Unless people think critically about the world around them they can be duped into thinking that they have done something for the Earth because of a purchase they have made, etc. A part of me was pleased to see my kids come home today talking about what they did for Earth Day in their classes – until I looked in their bags and saw all the photocopied paper from the activities and all the notices. Not to mention all the laminated work they bring home. Awareness is important, but meaningful action is all that will change this world.

    I chose to parts of the weekend, and parts of today, working in my garden planting peas and sunflowers and getting my garden ready for all the seedlings in my living room. I hope what I do around our home and the values I try to live by will sink into my daughters’ heads. My five year old said, “Hey, we’re planting things for the Earth and we will be able to eat what we grow so we save money and save the Earth.”
    christy’s last post … Happy Earth DayMy Profile

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